12 October 2009

Penry v. Penry

Before you condemn your opponent for something, make sure that you didn't vote for it.

[N]o GOP criticism has hit him harder than the contention that Ritter has hired 4,000 employees since taking office. . . . it has become a key talking point for Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, as he runs for governor. . . .

The budget lawmakers approved for the current 2009-10 fiscal year shows a total of 52,429 full-time state employees, an increase of 4,446 employees from fiscal year 2006-07, which ended in June 2007, six months into Ritter's term.

But of the 4,446 employees Republicans point to as having been added under Ritter, 46.6 percent of those, or 2,071, were higher-education employees, whose hirings are not directly controlled by the governor or the legislature. . . . higher-ed spending was on the rise early in Ritter's term in no small part to Referendum C, the measure voters approved in 2005 that gave the state a five-year timeout from constitutionally imposed revenue limits. The measure said that one-third of the money collected as a result of Ref C had to go to higher education, and for the first two years of Ritter's term, higher-education spending increased. . . .

The increase in judges and other court employees statewide accounted for 13.6 percent of the 4,446 employees added during the four budget years.

And of the 603 employees added to the judicial branch during the four fiscal years — workers who include judges, probation officers, public defenders, and court employees — 307 positions came through increased funding from just one bill in 2007.

Penry was a co-sponsor of that bill. . . .

The third-largest category of employees added over the four-year period were corrections workers, who accounted for 539, or 12.1 percent, of the 4,446. Much of the increase in corrections workers was due to the additional prison staff needed after the state started double-bunking inmates in some facilities as a result of a rising prison population.

Penry and other Republicans have also blasted Ritter for more than doubling the number of employees in his office from 121 to 376 since being elected.

But of those additional 255 employees, 212 — or 83 percent of those added — were existing information technology workers moved from other areas of state government and consolidated into the governor's office in an efficiency move.

Penry also co-sponsored the 2008 bill that made that happen.

You know you are in bizzaro world when the Republican candidate is attacking the Democratic former DA for increasing spending on the criminal justice system and prisons, and for not vetoing his own bills.

At any rate, now is not the time to be arguing that having created too many jobs was a bad thing. Support for the limits imposed on the state budget by TABOR has never been weaker. People favor repealing TABOR even in Republican strongholds like Colorado Springs.

This said, a look the poll numbers suggests that Penry's talking point hasn't made a difference. Penry's strategy is to preach to the already converted at a time when Republicans make up a record low percentage of voters in the state. Admittedly, Ritter isn't winning over Republicans. But, Democratic incumbents don't normally expect to win over Republicans.

Ritter's poll numbers are so remarkably low for an incumbent because Democrats aren't lining up in his column. Most successful politicians at the state level have done so by winning over almost all members of their own party, and a disproportionate share of independents.

Ritter has lost his base. His base may return by election day. He doesn't have a serious primary challenger. And, when push comes to shove, not many Democrats will pull the lever for a "starve the beast" Republican. Bill Ritter's poor poll numbers (hovering in the low 40s for an incumbent) reflect a vote of no confidence from unions supporters and Democrats, not bloated state payrolls.

No comments: